December: Zuppa di Pesce

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Seafood Stew Buon Natale

Buon giorno!

Buona festa a tutti! It’s that time of year when Italians turn their attention to things “fishy”. Why? It’s that Christmas Eve thing – you know – choosing the dishes for the great night before Christmas dinner, known as “The Feast of the Seven Fishes”. It’s funny though – that it is different in every household with some serving the 7 dishes – some serving more than seven – and some serving fewer than 7. The important thing here is that these dishes are carefully chosen and revered in family lore. One of them that speaks “Natale” to so many and is among the best known is the ZUPPA DI PESCE or Italian fish stew or soup. This dish – evokes mouthwatering memories that run deep into my soul. There are no other flavors – so delicate – yet so bold that remind me of more of an Italian Christmas than those in this dish.

It is not a difficult recipe. The key to its success is freshness! As in all Italian dishes, fresh ingredients reign supreme. For this one, I would say freshness makes or breaks the dish. Whether you use all of the fresh fish recommended, or some of them, or even add others – the important thing to remember is to rely on fresh seafood. Aside from that, truly, you cannot mess this up.

Reminiscent of the well known French Bouillabaisse, ZUPPA DI PESCE is a dish found by many names depending where you are in Italy – or what your family decided long ago to call it because of their region of origin. It is Cacciucco in Tuscany and in the coastal areas of Liguria. It is Cioppino by the Italian-American families of the San Francisco area. If you are boating around Sardinia, you will hear it called La Cassola. The original recipes for the Sardinian version use local fish like dogfish, eel, skate etc. Sicily offers Zuppa di Pesce Siracusana ( in the style of Syracusa) which is a baked stew served with toasted bread. However, Southern Italy – most notably Campania or Naples,  is the area most associated with ZUPPA DI PESCE ,as we most often speak of it, with tomatoes, herbs, hot pepper, and garlic, and just as you see it here.

All of these preparations have one thing in common – the need to be served with plentiful amounts of crusty Italian bread or Crostini!

Because, my father, Attilio, who was from the Campania region, made this soup so artfully, I dedicate this recipe to him and think he might find it quite familiar!


Serves: about 6


1/2 C. Olive Oil

4 Cloves Fresh Garlic – chopped

1 Large Onion – sliced thinly

1 Large (or 2 Medium) Fennel Bulb – sliced

3 Medium Yukon Gold Potatoes, unpeeled – cut up

2 Stalks Celery – chopped coarsely

A few baby carrots – chopped coarsely (6-7)

2 Tbsp. Fresh Oregano – chopped

1/2 C. Fresh Italian Parsley – chopped

1/2 C. Dry White Wine

3 Tbsp. Pernod or Sambuca

1 28 oz. Can San Marzano Tomatoes – I like to use whole peeled and then crush them with clean hands

Pinch of Red Pepper Flakes

4 Cups Seafood Stock or Clam Juice

Salt and Pepper to taste


1 lb. Cleaned Calamari  – cut into rings – include the tentacles!

1 lb. Fresh Cod – cut into large pieces

A large bag (about 30) Littleneck Clams – scrub the shells well!

2 lb. Very Large Shrimp – cleaned and peeled

1 lb. Sea Scallops – cut in half or horizontally

3 Medium Lobster Tails – or 2 Large ones – cut each into a few large pieces, leaving shell  intact


In the olive oil added to a large pot, cook the next 8 ingredients about 10 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Seafood stew 1

Add the wine and Pernod or Sambuca – Cook another minute.

Add the tomatoes, the red pepper flakes, and the stock or clam juice.

Seafood Stew 2

Then add the clams being first sure to brush and clean their shells well.

Seafood Stew 3

Cover and bring to a boil – Reduce heat to medium and cook about 20 minutes. Check and see if all clams are open. If not – cook another 5 or so minutes. Some are a little stubborn and need more cooking time.

Then remove and clams that have not opened and discard.

Remove the opened clams with shells carefully with a slotted spoon to a dish and reserve.

Add the calamari, cod, shrimp, scallops, and lobster to the pot.

Stir gently and cook about 10 minutes or until just cooked through. Do not over cook.

Add the clams back to the pot.

Taste for seasoning – adding salt and pepper as needed.

Seafood Stew 4 with script

Serve with the garnish below.


Fresh Lemon Wedges

Lots of fresh chopped Italian Parsley

This ZUPPA DI PESCE  is both beautiful and fun to serve. You will be so proud to have this dish at your table and hear the audible gasps. Serve this amazingly flavorful concoction with large Crostini as you see in the photo. For more delicious ways to serve Crostini, check out my ebook “For Love of Crostini”: HERE 

For a perfect pairing with this Southern Italian interpretation, serve this dish with a crisp Falanghina, the Italian white wine that was “made for” seafood.


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Shrimp and Polenta –

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Shrimp and Grits – a Southern cousin?

Shrimp Polenta-1

Buon giorno!

There is something about spring that makes me think brunch! Folks are starting to entertain again after the winter doldrums. They are looking for lighter dishes. They even begin to think of – dare I say it? – eating outside!

Shrimp and Grits is one of the traditional dishes of the American South. It is always on brunch menus and there are a gazillion ways to make it. It is the “southern cousin” to Italian SHRIMP AND POLENTA. And yes – if your weather permits, by all means, get thee to the patio with this one!

Living in the South, we have come to know grits as a staple. They eat grits with everything. Likewise, Italians regard their polenta just as highly and serve it so many different ways. To learn more about polenta visit my posts: Serving Polenta and Polenta – It’s So Corny.  You can find Italian polenta at many grocers and markets now. It is easy to make and “instant “, unlike the old days when you had to stir it for hours. You can just follow your package directions, and your resulting polenta should be very good. In the posts I recommended, you’ll see that I like to add a special ingredient, near the end of preparation, to my polenta – mascarpone cheese (Italian cream cheese). No matter which brand or package of polenta you choose, you can add the mascarpone right before serving. It definitely makes a difference. Your polenta will be richer and creamier, if you add this lovely creamy cheese. (And YOU will be happy you did!)

This is one dish that cooks up very quickly. You can make it ahead if you like, but it is so easy and quick to make that I never mind preparing it just before I need it. It is better, I think, freshly prepared.

Get those Bellinis and Proseccos poured – here it comes!


Serves: 4

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes approx.


Polenta – any type or package you prefer – prepared according to package instructions or as described here.

1/4 C. Mascarpone Cheese stirred into the polenta – recommended

1/3 C. Pancetta – chopped

1 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 Bulb Fennel – cleaned and sliced

1 – 1 1/4 lb. Large Fresh Shrimp – cleaned and shells removed

1 Tbsp. Tomato Paste

1/2 C. Dry Vermouth

2 Cloves Fresh Garlic – chopped finely

3 Tbsp. Fresh Chopped Tarragon

Juice of 1/2 Fresh Orange

Salt and pepper to taste

2 Tbsp. Butter

Garnish with Fresh Tarragon and some grated Orange Zest


Prepare your shrimp before your polenta. Instant polenta cooks quickly – I like mine made just before serving.

Cook your chopped pancetta in the olive oil in a large fry pan for 3-4 minutes.

Add the fennel and cook a couple of minutes more.

Shrimp and Polenta 1

Add your tomato paste to the vermouth and dissolve.

Then add the shrimp, garlic, tarragon, orange juice. Toss a little while your heat is medium high.

Shrimp and Polenta 2

Add the wine with the paste dissolved in it. Stir and let the shrimp cook through and the liquid cook down by about 1/2. This should take just a few minutes.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Be sure to taste for seasoning.

Shrimp and Polenta 3

At the end, add the butter and let it melt in, stirring into the sauce.

Shrimp and Polenta 4

Prepare your polenta according to package directions with the addition of the Mascarpone at the end.

Spoon the polenta on each plate and top with shrimp and sauce.

Garnish with fresh tarragon and grated orange zest.


I recommend serving your SHRIMP AND POLENTA with a crisp dry white wine like Falanghina! (Terradora di Paolo is a good one!) Prosecco is always nice as well.


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June: Linguine Alle Vongole

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Linguine with White Clam Sauce

Clam-Sauce with script

Sounds like a big deal – linguine, clams, vongole. Hmmm… not so much. The only big deal here is the wonderful dish that awaits. LINGUINE ALLE VONGOLE or Linguine with White Clam Sauce is easy, light, and perfect to start the summer menu for outdoor dining. Yes – outdoors – On the Patio – is right where I would go with this one. This dish was just made for an outdoor spread. You are not going to believe how easy it is to create one of the most famous of Italian seafood dishes. I just saw some beautiful Littleneck Clams the other day and thought, “It’s time!”  It is time to share this fabulous dish with you.

Linguine Alle Vongole was pretty ordinary around our house growing up  in Binghamton, NY, because it was a favorite of my father, Attilio, a fisherman at heart, who loved to take to the sea in the summer with his family in tow.  As a girl, we spent many summers on Cape Cod with various wonderful cousins of my mother, Loretta. We all inhabited cottages next to each other. It was the Italian version of the Kennedy compound—without the trust funds!  During the day, when the time was right, the kids would head, with their buckets, to the areas where the clams would be found and commenced to digging up as many as they could carry home to my Dad. He would then prepare two extraordinary sauces with these clams – one red – one white. The aunts prepared homemade pasta while we were all at the beach. Later at dinner time, everyone emerged from the family cottages to  grab a dish and line up  for Attilio’s “red” or “white”  sauce – both delicious and fresh. Such a memory – I can almost taste the pasta, fresh clams, and the the salt air that accompanied.

Today we’ll tackle the simple and fresh preparation of the “white” in Linguine Alle Vongole. Just relax and let the clams do the heavy lifting. They will release flavor from their broth that you will not believe!


Clam-Sauce with script 2

Serves: 4

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 10 minutes


1 lb. Linguine Pasta (thin, flat pasta)

1/4 c. Olive Oil

4 Cloves Fresh Garlic- chopped finely

1 c. White wine

1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes

Littleneck or other small clams (Manilas, cockles etc.) scrubbed a little to clean them. I like 3 1/2 lb for 4 people. Don’t be stingy with the clams. After all, they are the main focus here.

3 Tbsp. Butter

Salt and Pepper to taste.

1/2 c.  Italian Flat Leaf Parsley

1 Lemon for garnish

Extra Virgin Olive Oil  for drizzle


Put oil in pan with chopped garlic

Cook a couple of minutes over med. high heat just to let garlic permeate the oil. Sit and do not brown or burn the garlic

Add the wine and red pepper flakes – Cook a couple of minutes.

Then add the clams turning the heat to high. Cover the pan immediately and cook until the clams open – about 8 minutes. They will release a delicious broth which will flavor your sauce.

If larger clams are used –leave cover on a couple more minutes.

When ready – remove any unopened clams and discard them as they may be dead. Use only the clams which have opened.

TASTE and add salt and pepper as needed

At this point add 3 tbsp. butter. Let the butter melt and stir in.

Add the sauce to the drained pasta and toss. Taste again for seasoning.

Sprinkle parsley over the top.

Slice the lemon very thin into rounds and then cut the rounds in half  – like 1/2 moons and throw around on top of pasta – as many as you like.

Drizzle liberally with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Stick a fork in it – it’s DONE!

To Serve: Have some crusty Italian bread on hand with this dish. You’ll need it. It has great “dunkability”!  My father, Attilio, would surely have a small supply of red pepper flakes on the side to add to his dish – delicious – but not for the faint of heart.

Vino: As with most seafood , I recommend a Falanghina with the Linguine Alle Vongole , but a Pinot Grigio would  be lovely as well.


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Grilled PIzza_3

Buon giorno!

I have found that sometimes change is a good thing, and sometimes we just need to be flexible and “go with it”. Outside of the Ten Commandments, nothing is written in stone, and that includes pizza.  After making literally scores of pizzas over the years, I have discovered that making PIZZA ON THE GRILL is just my favorite new thing. Of course, this means another excuse for eating On the Patio – which can’t be too bad. I spent years of cranking my oven up to 500 degrees and heating up the whole house – including in the middle of Hot-Lanta summers. I even cracked the inner glass on my oven door when I inadvertently let the pizza stone rest against it while making one of the Linda’s Italian Table specials. I experienced major appliance envy while visiting our good friends, Barbara and Steve, who had installed an authentic state of the art pizza oven, and I lamented my inadequate “equipment”. (Read about this amazing “gadget” in our January blog post. FIRE IN THE HOLE!  Well, times they are a-changin! You, too, have a pizza oven in your outdoor grill, and I bet many of you didn’t know it.

Thanks to the prodding of my husband, Tom, who is always game to try something new – I grudgingly agreed to try making pizza on the grill – something he had heard and read about. After a little research – we tried it. OMG!! Once again, Tom rocked my world – or so he says! Gone are the days of maneuvering the pizza in and out of the oven, turning the kitchen into Dante’s Inferno in mid-July, and sweeping cornmeal off the floor afterward. I am about to change your pizza-making ways forever. Follow my lead and you’ll never cook another pizza indoors.

The keys to the kingdom – the tools: Nothing new here – you’ll use all the same things I recommended in my Pizza Post “THAT’S AMORE” : Cornmeal, pizza stone, large spatula, a pizza peel, the best ingredients – good dough preferably homemade (we’ll chat about this later) fresh mozzarella, good sausage, fresh herbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, good olive oil. Last but not least – scissors! My mother, Loretta, always cut her pizza with scissors and did not use a pizza cutter. Thank goodness, or I’d still be sitting in her little kitchen waiting for the pizza to be cut. I’ve never seen a pizza cutter beat the scissors. I have seen people hack away repeatedly at a pizza trying to get a quick and good cut. Some morsel always seems to remain attached. If you like your pizza cutter, by all means use it, but I will continue to use my scissors. Truce declared!

The Secret – HEAT: An actual pizza oven heats up to about 900 degrees. What we realized was that by heating up your grill ahead of time like you would do with your oven – and adding wood chips if you want to achieve the real wood-fired effect – you actually turn your grill into a pizza oven with temperatures way above the 500 in the kitchen oven – or around 800 degrees. This, of course, means that your cook time will be far less than cooking the pizza indoors which is usually about 15 minutes. You’ll want to heat that sucker up with the lid down and with the pizza stone on the grill for about 15 minutes. This pre-heat time is what it’s all about.

The path to enlightenment: While you’re heating up the grill with the stone inside, get all of your ingredients together and be ready to go. Put some cornmeal on the pizza peel. Stretch or roll your dough out to the desired size, and place it on the prepared peel. Now to construct your masterpiece! Always start with a sprinkle of olive oil, and spread it all over the dough with your very clean fingers. This helps to seal the crust and prevent the toppings from making it soggy. Then place your ingredients on top usually ending with the cheese. A last drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive oil is nice. Do not leave your pizza sitting there waiting for peace in the Middle East. Get that puppy to the grill as quickly as possible.

Stairway to heaven: Open your very hot grill,and then sprinkle the stone with some cornmeal. Ease the pizza off the peel with a large spatula and a little shake. The cornmeal on the peel makes it slide off easily. Quickly put the lid down. Your cook times will vary, as your grill may take longer or less time than mine. The cooking time I will offer is only a guideline, and yours may be different. However, I’ll testify – experimenting is fun! Once the pizza is on the grill, I cook the pizza for approximately  3-4   minutes, and then I peek at it by raising the grill lid, lifting the edge with a spatula. You should look for a golden brown, crisp bottom and a lightly charred edge. Now you are operating like a true pizzaiolo (the guy who cooks pizzas in Naples). Peeking is good. Here is a peek at the crust of one of my pizzas:

Grilled PIzza_4

If almost there, let it go another minute. Keep peeking. You may want to rotate the pizza a little with the spatula to get an even bake. Usually 5-6 minutes total will do it. Here is one that is almost there:

Grilled PIzza_6

This is totally according to the heat level in your grill. Depending on your grill – going beyond this time may burn the bottom. Watch it!

When you have the desired “doneness”, gently slide the peel under the pizza, and lift it off the stone and onto the plate. DONE! Pizza in 5-6 minutes – see the lovely “fired” edge – Troppo bella!

Pizza-2 with script

A word about the dough: I make my dough using my mother’s recipe which calls for regular flour. I know that many like to use the Italian flour referred to as Double Zero. This is traditionally used in Italy for pizza and pasta making. I always use it for making my pasta fresca. I do not use it for pizza, as I like my mother’s recipe, using all purpose flour, which I offer in my post, “THAT’S AMORE”. It is easy and delicious, and I think more folks would be inclined to make their own dough if they could use ingredients that would be found in their pantry. I have made some adjustments to that recipe recently that I have found to make a better and thinner crust. You might want to take a look on the post!

It Ain’t Heavy: Pizza isn’t always laden with the worst of the worst for you. I am offering you a look at my GRILLED PIZZA MARGHERITA. You know this one. It’s the one given the nod by Queen Margherita “just a few years ago” – in 1889. Back in the old days in Binghamton, my grandmother used to refer to my mother as La Regina Margherita. I can only imagine why!  This pizza is light, fresh, quick and easy. There are many variations of this recipe, but I like this one as most of the ingredients are fresh and healthy. Some of these ingredients can probably even be found in your garden!


Pizza Grilled_0003


Makes: 1 large pizza

Prep for grill: 15 minutes

Prep for pizza: 7 minutes

Cook: Approx. 6 minutes

Dough: Follow the instructions for the dough in the post, “THAT’S AMORE”. Suggestion: Make the dough ahead and store it in the freezer, if you like. One recipe will make 4 loaves of dough for a thinner crust. Each loaf  is perfect for this recipe. If you like a thicker crust, just make 2 loaves, and use one of those for this recipe.


Olive oil

Several Fresh Campari Tomatoes sliced. I like Campari’s which are in season right now because they are soooo sweet. If you can’t find Campari Tomatoes, use the freshest tomatoes you can find.

Salt and Pepper

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese

Fresh Mozzarella – sliced thinly not grated

Fresh Basil Leaves –at least 1/2 cup – more if you like. Leave the leaves whole.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Follow the instructions in the preceding text for tools and preparing the grill.

As instructed above, place the dough on the peel topped with cornmeal.

Rub the surface of the dough with a little olive oil.

Lay the Tomato Slices on the top of the dough.

Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Top with sliced Fresh Mozzarella.

Add the fresh Basil Leaves.

Drizzle with a nice Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Grilled PIzza_2

Follow the directions in the portions of the above text called The Path to Enlightenment and Stairway to Heaven for grilling the pizza.

The long and short of it is: In approximately 6 minutes total –  you’ll be eating it!

VINO: With this one, I’d say go alla Napoletana, as they know the most about pizza in any form. For white – I’d suggest Fiano di Avellino or Falanghina. For red – try an Aglianico. Just sayin…


** I love receiving your comments! Don’t forget – you can leave comments at the end of each blog post. If you receive your post in your email, just click on the post title and go straight to the blog on the website where you can leave your thoughts! Looking forward to hearing from you.

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Fish with Potatoes and Fennel

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Baked Cod with Potatoes and Fennel

Nothing Fishy About This Dish!


Buon giorno!

Nothing fishy about this, folks! The importance of fish (pesce) on the Italian Table cannot be underestimated. The story of Italians and the sea dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times. Surrounded by the bountiful Mediterranean, Italy has given birth to a legacy of some of the oldest preparations of seafood which have repeated through the ages. Today’s subject, Fish With Potatoes and Fennel or Pesce Con Patate e Finocchio is one such preparation – shining in its simplicity, showcasing the taste of the sea, using a handful of fresh ingredients. It is similar to a recipe used in the Grosseto area of Tuscany. You can only imagine this dish, which oozes fresh flavors, going from the boat to the table in a matter of minutes. This is what all Italian fish dishes are meant to be – simple, easy, fresh, and healthy.

About Fish and Italians: Fish has been a staple of the Italian diet for centuries – in part, because of the long coastline giving 15 of the 20 regions access to the sea, and also because of the vibrant trading ports all along the coast – most specifically Venice and Genoa. Read more about this from “Eating Fish in Italy” by Martha Bakerjian. Every region had its specialties. Every family had its legacy of recipes handed down for generations. In the Calabrisi household, fish played a prominent role at our Italian table. Like most other Italians of the time, we did not eat meat on Fridays or on other days of abstinence, especially during Lent. In addition, my father, Attilio, loved to fish – in both fresh and saltwater. As a result, we always had many different types of fish stocked in the freezer from his fishing trips up and down the Eastern seacoast. The preparations varied: fried, grilled, baked, sauteed, broiled, boiled, in sauces for pastas – you name it – he cooked it.

About this dish: Today’s dish, reminiscent of one of his baked seafood specialties, Fish With Potatoes and Fennel, can be prepared with any fresh firm white fish: Branzino, Cod, Sea Bass, Swordfish, Flounder and others. I have chosen fresh Cod as it is so popular in Italian fish dishes. An added benefit is that it is not as costly as some of the others. Cod can be found on the scene in Italy as far back as the 1500’s. Back then, it was often suggested to BEAT the salted version of this fish – literally with a stick. Assuming that your aggressions do not need satisfying to that degree, we’ll use the fresh Cod as opposed to salted – fresh, easy, quick, and oh so delicious. Cod absorbs flavors well, is not fishy, and is tender.

Got about 20 minutes? That is all it will take to prepare this healthy little number before it goes into the oven. The result will be a beautiful presentation in technicolor. My close-up, Mr. De Mille?




Serves 4 (approx.)

Preparation: 20 minutes

Cook time :20-25 minutes


1 1/2 lb fresh firm white fish( cod – My Choice, sea bass, swordfish, branzino, flounder etc.)

2-3 Potatoes – boiled til just fork tender and sliced

Olive Oil for drizzling

1 Fennel Bulb – sliced

(You can substitute Onion for Fennel if you like but – Fennel is much nicer in this and adds more flavor.)

2 Tbsp Olive oil to saute Fennel

3/4 c. White wine

1 Tbsp Fresh Thyme Leaves

1 Tbsp Orange Zest

3-4 Tbsp Seasoned Breadcrumbs

2-3 Ripe Fresh Tomatoes sliced

1 Orange Peeled and sliced

Salt and Pepper to taste

Chopped Fresh Basil for garnish

Extra Virgin Olive Oil for an ending drizzle


1. Oil a baking dish.

2. Arrange your boiled, sliced potatoes in bottom of oiled baking dish and sprinkle with salt and pepper – drizzle a little oil.


3. Slice Fennel bulb as in our past post using fennel . Saute in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil until tender. This takes about 10-12 minutes. It will appear slightly golden


4. Lay sliced Fennel over potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

5. Place fish over the Fennel.


6. Add wine to the dish.


7. Drizzle a little olive oil over the fish and then add some salt and pepper.


8. Sprinkle with fresh thyme and orange zest.


9. Sprinkle dry breadcrumbs over the top.


10. Lay tomato slices and orange slices in any pattern you like on the top and add salt and pepper.


11. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes.  Garnish with your fresh Basil.  A drizzle of Extra Virgin and Serve.

Serving: Remember to sprinkle the salt and pepper on each layer. It is important to season Fish With Potatoes and Fennel thoroughly as it builds. I like to drizzle some Extra Virgin Olive Oil over the top just before serving. This gives the top a nice sheen after cooking at a high temperature as well as adding another layer of flavor. This healthy dish with its fresh ingredients goes from oven to table, takes very little time and effort to prepare, and the presentation is lovely. A green vegetable or salad would be a perfect companion here.

My tip: Now if you were me – when the weather gets a little nicer – you’d be sneaking this one out  On the Patio with maybe a little fire in the pit on a beautiful balmy spring evening with my first choice for Italian white wine with seafood  – Falanghina – a full bodied white that doesn’t fade. It just doesn’t get any better than that.


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PART 1 – ZUPPA DI BACCALA – Baccala Soup


Baccala Soup_01


(PART 2 – INSALATA DI BACCALA – Baccala Salad – to follow on Friday of this week in an extra post!)

Buon giorno!


*** See end of this blog post for the “Name The Dessert” contest winner !!

Growing up in an Italian household that held traditions dear, I can attest to the experience of any holiday celebration as concentrated at the table with several courses to the meal and much lively banter. Of all holidays and celebratory events, none compared to Natale (Christmas) and La Vigilia (The Vigil or Christmas Eve). Relatives and friends would come and go during the long Christmas Eve dinner and someone would inevitably begin singing a familiar Italian melody with others chiming in. This celebration was long anticipated all during the year, and when it finally arrived, it lasted for hours and never disappointed. The meal, prepared by both my mother and father, Loretta and Attilio, centered around seven courses of fish.

Much is made about “The Feast of the Seven Fishes” in descriptions of the Italian Christmas holiday, and many wonder what’s with the fish?? The “fish thing” began in medieval times and was religious in origin. In the Roman Catholic faith, Christmas Eve was a day of fast and abstinence awaiting the “arrival of the bambino”. Meat and butter were not permitted – so families ate fish cooked in olive oil. When I was a child, many Catholic families hoped that the bishop would give a dispensation for the meatless day which he often did. No matter in my house! Whether or not the bishop dispensed, we adhered to tradition and had fish! No one was unhappy.

Well then, why seven? Seven signified the seven sacraments of the Church. Many Italian families had fewer than seven, and many had as many as 10, 12, or 13! We rarely counted. We loved ALL of them! These fish dishes were divided by Loretta and Attilio – each preparing their specialties. The flurry of creation started weeks in advance: Stuffed Calamari with Sauce and Linguine, Calamari in Attilio’s spicy sauce, shrimp, Clams Oreganata, Fried Smelts, Baccala Soup and Baccala Salad and sometimes MORE such as Sardines prepared a couple of ways, Seafood Antipasti, Baked Smelts , Octopus, and Eel!

Two of the favorites were preparations of Baccala – Dry Salted Cod. One of them, Baccala Soup, is a lovely tomato based soup, rich in Napoletana tradition. You can almost smell the Mediterranean when you prepare it. Tasting it is nothing short of heaven! It is delicate in flavor yet substantial in nourishment and content. We will discuss this soup today. The second preparation is the beautiful and tasty Baccala Salad which we will talk about later this week in an extra post. Don’t wait for holiday time to prepare these lovelies. They are wonderful anytime, and the soup can be frozen.

Salt cod as it is called – sold in slabs, dried out, and packed in coarse salt, comes to life when soaked in cold water which is changed several times over 24-48 hours. There are many ways to prepare Salt Cod, and you will find recipes prepared differently in Italy depending on the region. In our house, Loretta always served it for Christmas Eve two ways and was an example of what she liked to call “peasant food” because of its simplicity. Other courses might vary but the Baccala Soup and Baccala Salad were always on the menu – and they, of course, represented two of the “required” Seven Fishes. Regardless of its simplicity, today, you will find Salt Cod on the most sophisticated and authentic of Italian menus. Fresh Cod can be used but the result is somewhat different. The Salt Cod retains a firmness that the fresh cannot. The fresh tends to flake and fall apart to a greater degree, and of course, does not have as much flavor.

 Growing up, I often went along with my mother to shop at Bruno’s Market in Binghamton,NY, for the Salt Cod. As soon as you opened the door of the little market, you encountered the scent of wonderful strong Italian cheeses and meats hanging from the ceiling. Another aroma that captured my nose emanated from the unmistakable presence of Salt Cod kept in barrels and crates near the fresh meat section in the back of the market. Shoppers could reach in and select just the right piece and quantity. These pieces or slabs were caked with coarse sea salt. The aroma wasn’t a bad one – but it made a statement.

How in the world, you might ask, did this ever get started. Surprisingly, the use of this form of Cod goes as far back as the 1500’s. It was often prepared by the poor. It was prized as it did not easily spoil, lasted indefinitely, and made fish accessible to areas of Italy that were far from the sea. Also, consider that no refrigeration was available. One might think that because of its frequency of use, it might be a Mediterranean fish, but it is not. It has been shipped into Italy for centuries from the Scandinavian countries packed in large wooden boxes in so much coarse salt, that the fish were not readily visible.

As far as nutrition – Salt Cod is full of the valued omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, potassium, B-12, niacin, and magnesium. The very healthy Baccala Soup (which is almost stew-like) is delicious served in a bowl over fried polenta. Aside from the soup and the Baccala Salad, the cod can be baked and even served with my Orange Pesto! See the following link to the Orange Pesto from my post on Roast Chicken: (HERE!)These are all preparations that are quite nutritious as well as tasty.

The Salt Cod is available in most markets (you might have to request it). Whole Foods has it in their frozen seafood section – “frozen” for some unknown reason. It comes in small one pound wooden containers. In all cases and no matter the recipe, the Salt Cod must be soaked in cold water for at least 24-48 hours, changing the water several times. It is, then, ready for any mission you might have in store!

Today, we shall fill our kitchen with the essence of the sea – Let’s cast our nets!


1 lb Salt Cod – soaked in cold water 24-48 hours – change water several times – at least 4

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1/4 c. Olive Oil

4 Cloves Garlic chopped

1 Large Onion sliced

2 Fennel Bulbs sliced horizontally

1/3 c. chopped Fennel Fronds

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1 c. White Wine

4 Peeled Potatoes – sliced – I then cut slices in half

1 28 oz. can Peeled tomatoes – give one quick turn in the blender – this seems to give the perfect consistency

1/2 c. Chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

1/4 c. Chopped Fresh basil

1 Bay Leaf

1/2 tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

2 c. water ( you can add more after it gets going if you like more liquid)

2 tsp. Kosher Salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Chopped Fresh Basil for garnish


Heat oil and add garlic cooking a couple of minutes.

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Add onion and fennel slices.

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Cook about 6 minutes until just tender.

Increase heat and add wine. Cook down 3-4 minutes.

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Add potatoes.

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Now add the tomatoes.

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Add fresh herbs, bay leaf, fennel fronds, and red pepper flakes.

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Add water.Bring to boil and reduce heat to simmer until potatoes 10-12 minutes.

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Cut the fish into pieces about 2 inches long.

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Add Cod. Cover and simmer – do not boil – for about 30 minutes or until the fish is tender and potatoes are fully cooked.

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Check for seasoning and adjust. Remove bay leaf!! The experience of having one in your mouth can be unpleasant and may cause choking.

I like to serve this over a thick slice of Italian crusty bread first brushed with olive oil. For the photo, I used a thick slice of delicious and fresh Potato Rosemary Bread.

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A drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil completes the experience. Troppo Bella!

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With this dish, I would suggest serving a dry white wine and also using the same in the soup preparation. My ”gotta have it” favorite Italian white wine to serve with seafood is Falanghina Irpinia Terredora DiPaolo.This is a full bodied white. I had a 2009 recently that was perfection! The fact that it comes from the Campania region which is the area of my heritage is an added bonus in my book. You will love this wine.

Watch for Part II of Two of the Seven on Friday!


***Thanks to all who placed entries in the “Name the Dessert Contest”. It was fun to read the entries, and they were GREAT! The winner of the contest and the Linda’s Italian Table apron is STEPHANIE WAHL with her submission: “Nubi del Cielo” – “Clouds of Heaven”!! Thank you, Stephanie!




Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography

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